Thursday, March 6, 2014

SOLSC #6 The Read-Aloud

I am posting every day during March as part of the annual "Slice of LifeChallenge for Two Writing Teachers.  Check out their website for lots more reflections on teaching.


Beginning in March, and continuing the remainder of the school year, the Resident Teacher begins to have more "chunks of the day" to call her own - times when I am placed firmly into the observer role. We have a fancy name for this transition period - "release of responsibility."

I think I will call it "the catbird seat." I find it delightful.

I love being able to be in the background, watching and supporting. I love being with the kids, seeing the classroom from their point of few, feeling their emotions. They are so, so funny!

My catbird seat for the read-aloud means
I am nestled on the floor,
amongst the children,
at least one child on my lap,
others cuddled at my sides.

The picture book read-aloud is always a feat for a new teacher - learning to hold the book wide open and comfortably static, so that everyone can see. She provides a gentle reminder at the outset, "Move your bodies so that you may see the book that I am holding up right here."

A huddle of children is sitting down,
as close to the teacher's knees as they can possibly get.
There are a couple are laying down, on the fringe of the mass,
plus one is behind the chair that the teacher is reading from...
There's one sitting with her back to the book, watching the lunches being set out on the tables,
two are facing each other, quietly talking, ignoring the teacher,
and one seems to be fixated on the stuffed animal in her lap, also ignoring the teacher.

But I'm not fooled.
These little ones are simply getting ready for the exciting book.

I smile, thinking that this relaxed atmosphere wouldn't fly at many public preschools today. I mentored a teacher a few years ago whose school expected her to have a room full of preschoolers sitting cross-legged and quiet, eyes on the teacher...any departure from this strict position, and the child was sent to the "sit and think" chair. I don't think I will ever fully understand the point of these restrictions. Goodness, have you watched adults settle down in a movie theater to watch a film? We're all over the place - checking phones, repositioning ourselves in chairs, whispering and giggling. I believe the teacher's job is to set the simple expectation of respecting one another [be good listeners, protect each other's space/body] and have faith that children will 'settle in' if the book is worthwhile.

Our book read-alouds have the expectant air of a new theater release, with everyone joyfully gathering.

She begins to read the book and,
as if on cue,
hands fly up into the air with burning questions and comments,
I have something to say!, 
I have a question! 

When a preschooler wants to be heard,
they can't resist perching on their feet,
Our most recent "theater release"
getting up on one knee,
jumping up with hand in the air,
gesticulating wildly.

There's a domino effect,
one preschooler playing off another.
The one who was laying down,
the one who had her back turned,
the one who I thought was nestled in my lap,
they are all on their feet,
too excited to sit back.

They are right on top of one another,
desperate to see and be heard.

And those whose view is now being blocked cannot contain themselves either -

(Then there's the one keen observer who takes note of the classmate who has scooched onto his knees, and immediately bellows an indignant "I CAN'T SEE!" even though this keen observer is positioned to the side or in front of the classmate on his knees, by no means with an impaired view of the book. This child is the parliamentarian of the class, the keeper of the rules.)

When the teacher hesitates for a mere moment in calling out someone's name to give a comment,
then, another child just speaks LOUDER, more rapidly.

Everyone is spirited now,
just wanting to be part of the animated conversation,
by contributing a new thought,
so echoing their classmates words - what was just said a moment ago - verbatim,
or simply raising their hands,

Back and forth,
lots of animated discussion,
a gentle reminder by the teacher when the talking seems excessive -
"Remember our class rule - never what?"
"NEVER INTERRUPT A GOOD BOOK!" they shout, completing her sentence.

"Let's settle in."

But the very next page of the book
provokes another burning question,
which, of course, means a preschooler has jumped back up on his feet, and...
well, you get the idea...

In the catbird seat,
all of this makes me chuckle.

Maybe a lively read-aloud means you've read the best book in the world - engaged them to the max?
There is no doubt in my mind that these preschoolers love books!
We are cultivating readers.

(A daily share by a preschooler, in their own words)

A Story Collage by Caroline

Puddles. Two boys were jumping in a red puddle. And then Mommy said it was time to go in for lunch. “Coming, Mommy!” And then the Mommy says, “You can go play where you want to play, but come back inside when it is time for dinner.” “Okay!” Then the boys heard a scary noise. Then they went heard another noise and it went “Grrr! Grrr!” That was the bear. The boys picked out a big long pencil and shocked the bear but it didn’t hurt. And then they went to chase a butterfly. Then they wanted to fly like an owl but they didn’t have wings, so they began to climb up the tree house and play with the owl. Then it was time for naptime and they came back inside. But they really wanted to shock the bear again but the bear went back to its cave.  But then Mommy said “Naptime’s over.” But then Mommy said, “There might be a really big puddle outside.” They went outside and there was a really big puddle and they jumped and jumped and jumped. The bear said “Who’s jumping in my big hat puddle?” And then they ran and ran back inside. Then the Mommy said, “Do you want to chase another butterfly?” And they said “Yeah!” and they chased another butterfly. And then the butterfly saw that pencil and it ate and ate and ate. The End


  1. I absolutely loved reading your post about being in the catbird seat at read aloud. I have been a first gr teacher, then home along time with my kids. This year I am a 1:1 in prek (this half time position fits my life this year. I absolutely love your perspective! And I share your thoughts on time out. I find myself feeling frustrated that that seems to be one of the only remnants of "responsive classroom" practices that remains in a district that no Ionger trains teachers in truly Responsive ways to teach. Your depiction of the scene was a joy to read, along with your insights. Thanks

  2. I'm ready to snuggle in for a good story too!

  3. 1. I absolutely love this story and could picture a child telling it. It kind of reminds me of the story telling habits of one of my kiddos.
    2. Your description of the fervor of a read aloud is so apt. It's such a tricky thing to strike a balance between "I love your exuberance please share all your smart thoughts forever" and "for the love of god we will never get through this book. There's also the frustration when that quiet kid is about to say something and the louder kid says it first or says it louder. I never want to quash enthusiasm, but I also want to feel like kids get something out of the read aloud. With kids this small, however, I think you might be on to something with your theory that this fevered chaos is really just what PreK reading engagement looks like.
    3. Thanks for the reminder about proper seating during a read aloud. I NEVER require my kids to sit criss cross. It's unnatural and, to my mind, disrespectful of them. But I do notice I am guilty of trying to micromanage their seating and their attention and their bodies at the start of a read aloud. Your analogy with the movie theater helped to wake me back up to the idea that perhaps their wiggling, curling up, and flailing are all their ways of settling into a story. Thanks, Maureen!

  4. Well, my first comment is about Caroline's phenomenal story! Wow!! There is dialogue, connections to the pictures, expression. We have to connect on a project between our classes.

    Second, I learn so much from you as a mentor teacher. You are just so good at it and I struggle. I never even thought about this: "The picture book read-aloud is always a feat for a new teacher - learning to hold the book wide open and comfortably static, so that everyone can see." So true! New teachers learn so much, including how to hold a book for read aloud. You are cultivating readers and teachers!

  5. I was on one of my overnights a while ago with three wonderful chaperones, but none were teachers. It was a tough trip. Others, without training or experience, just do not understand the big picture, and all the little ones. Your post is spot on, and touches me because in the kindergarten year my grandson was in trouble so much because, he had "uncontrollable" body movements-don't they all? The teacher, fortunately, left at mid-year. I love your descriptions Maureen & there is so much to see from the 'catbird' seat. Many thanks!